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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

Packing tips

Saludos Dragons students!

Welcome to the great adventurous pre-adventure mission of packing! As seasoned veterans of South American travel (and really, travel in general), we’ve all been in your shoes.

This is a supplement to the extensive packing list available in your Course Preparation Manual. We’ve highlighted things we think are extra important and also some things that might have been unclear the first time around. Many of these are suggestions, not requirements, so use your own judgement about what’s right for you.

Our packing lists have been refined over the years by the many, many Dragons students and instructors who have traversed the Andes and Amazon. Please read very, very carefully through the packing lists!! So do your best, keep asking us any questions you have here on the Yak board, and keep breathing. Really, it’s only stuff. YOU and your willingness to be flexible and learn are way more important than anything you’ll find on this list.  One of the best pieces of advice we can give is to pack empty space! That way your bag is light, easier to pack, and has space for anything you might like to buy.

Buena suerte!

For the Mountains

WARM LAYERS and a ZERO-DEGREE SLEEPING BAG (or a 15-degree bag and liner).  It can get cold while trekking at altitude.  While we will be traveling through a variety of contexts and climates, be sure to bring lots of warm layers for those cold nights of travel around La Paz.  In Cochabamba it will be warm during the day (likely in the 70s-80s) and cool down in the evenings.  We will also spend up to two weeks in a semi-tropical climate, where you’ll want light layers that can also protect from insects.

For WATER PURIFICATION we recommend STERIPENS, as they are effective and work in a variety of environments. Note: No tap water we encounter in Bolivia or Peru will be considered potable. This means that we will have to purify water in both backcountry and city-like settings. If you invest in a steripen please bring at least one set of extra batteries (preferably lithium, or the strongest you can find) or rechargeable batteries. If you bring a steripen, you must also bring a back-up water purification method, such as chlorine or iodine just in case.  We recommend Polar Pure for an iodine-based option, or Aqua Mira for a chlorine-based option.

If you bring a steripen, make sure you bring two wide-mouthed water bottles (1 liter capacity) so your steripen can effectively purify the water.

Please start breaking in your BOOTS now. Put on your hiking boots and go hike a mountain, walk up and down your stairs, hike up a 20-story building and down again. A few times. This is not something you want to have to do our first trek. Boots that aren’t broken in can easily lead to blistered feet.

GOOD HEADLAMP. This is possibly the most-used item throughout the course.  AAA batteries are available in-country, but are generally of lower quality. Please bring two sets of back-up batteries for anything battery-powered that you wish to function the entire trip. Again, lithium batteries will last a lot longer than others.

GOOD PACK COVER. For both your large pack and daypack. Many people like pack covers because it protects the material of your backpacks while on treks, while under a bus, etc. However, our main waterproof device for our trekking with be big garbage bags used to line the inside of your pack. So if your pack cover rips while on course, no worries. Your stuff will stay dry. [Note: Your pack cover will probably rip.]

GOOD QUALITY RAIN GEAR (jacket and pants) is essential.  Keep in mind that there is a high possibility that you may be trekking through high mountain passes in the rain, and through the cloud forest in the mud, so at the very least will need a good quality poncho.

An UMBRELLA. We have the potential to have some very wet treks. An sturdy, light weight umbrella will help keep you dry as your backpack wears off the waterproof laminate on the shoulders of your rain jackets (it happens). While not essential, an umbrella is really, really nice.

At least one pair SYNTHETIC UNDERWEAR and long synthetic socks. Nice for washing on the go and quick drying. It’s good to mix it up: bring a few pair of underwear made from natural materials and a few from synthetic materials for our treks.

TREKKING POLES are not necessary, but essential if you have bad knees, weak ankles, or less-than-perfect balance. Check out this link for the pros and cons of trekking poles and see where you fit.

One plastic leak-proof TUPPERWARE container. A great option is the GSI Outdoor Fairshare Mug, which can be found at REI or on Amazon. While on the trail, we often pack lunches in our “tuppers” and use them for take-away food. They should be big enough to hold an entire portion of your meal without liquid leaking all over when you turn it upside-down.

Camping CUTLERY. This can be as simple as a spoon from home, or a camping “spork”. Extra points if it fits inside your tupper.

HOT MUG/THERMOS. Optional, but really nice if you love your coffee or tea in the morning on treks. Sturdy and not too leaky ones are ideal. You can also easily find cheap tin mugs for around a dollar in Bolivian markets. If you are a coffee lover and want to go fancy, feel free to bring along your travel-sized french press mug to use with the good Bolivian coffee grounds.

On top of a JOURNAL, you’ll also want to bring a straight-up NOTEBOOK. Bring a couple of PENS to get you started, but know they are easily replaceable in-country.

The BIG PACK TOWEL– again the small ones are nice and do the job, but the big one will make you happy and well-covered for the duration of the 3 months. Especially in hostels and homestays.

A small SEWING KIT for those random repairs. A sewing kit from a hotel is perfect.

NATURAL TOILETRIES help decrease our ecological footprint. Check your local grocery or health food store. Dr. Bronner’s is great and multi-purpose. LUSH ( has a great selection of solid shampoos that you can buy in a tin. They are small, all natural, will last you the whole trip, and best of all, they don’t spill! (You can also re-stock generic toiletries in-country.)

Some EXTRA GALLON SIZED ZIPLOCK BAGS are always nice. Use them to waterproof journals, notebooks, books, etc. They can be found in cities, though not in most small towns.

For the city

Please bring a pair of JEANS, or something you would feel comfortable wearing in the city. In fact you should know that we will be going back and forth through La Paz and Cochabamba several times. We usually (though not always) have a chance to leave extra things in storage before major treks or course “shifts.” We will be spending about 3 weeks in total in our longer homestay outside of Cochabamba, so some “not camping” clothes are nice. At least bring some clothes you can sit in as you wash your trekking clothes.

Some running shoes, sneakers or COMFORTABLE CITY SHOES. Most students will bring a total of 3 pairs of shoes (the other two being boots and sandals).

FLIP FLOPS are useful for hostel showers and informal settings.

EARPLUGS as there will be all sorts of new noises (think roosters and lively overnight buses).

Something FUN to do as a group! You will have many moments together as a group, it is nice to have games (cards, Uno, bananagrams) and a book or two that you can trade off.

For yourself or for someone you meet along the way

A bit more information on GIFTS. You may want something for individuals who make your course special, such as ISP mentors and homestay families. We have a longer homestay near Cochabamba and at least 2 more rural homestays of about two-three days each.  There is no expectation that you bring gifts, so simplicity is best for this! Some of the nicest gifts will be the ones you don’t bring from home: locally developing photos of your host family, leaving behind a sweet thank-you note. If you do want to bring something from home, think about a couple of small, meaningful gifts, ideally not made of plastic.  Some ideas are: postcards or pictures from home with a message on the back, games that you enjoy, small tokens of where you’re from (local crafts, a local treat, etc.). To be honest the best gift is just being present and engaged with your homestay families.

USB STICK for saving photos, documents for independent study projects, Field Notes, etc.

A few small PHOTOS of people and places important to you. To be culturally appropriate, be sure to print photos as opposed to uploading them on an electronic device. 

MAILING ADDRESSES of family and friends. You’ll have the opportunity to connect old-school this semester by writing letters and sending postcards to family and friends.

For the Amazon

LIGHTWEIGHT SLEEPING CLOTHES It’s inappropriate to wear tank tops and shorts 99% of the time during our travels. However, it’s really hot at night in the Amazon, so you may consider bringing some lightweight clothes for the muggy Amazon nights when we’re sleeping in tents.

LIGHTWEIGHT LONG-SLEEVED SHIRT to keep you cool in the lowlands, and to keep away the bugs and hot sun. This may be the same as your lightweight trekking shirt for the mountains.


Water filters. Steri-pens or iodine and the like are great, but water filters are not particularly useful for the diversity of environments we’ll be traveling through.

Kindles and other electronic reading devices (including ipod touches) are a risk for damage and theft, and not particularly culturally appropriate.

mosquito net. If they are needed they will be provided.

Please leave cell phones (iPhones included) at home.  If you do decide to bring a phone to coordinate your travel to and from Miami, please keep in mind that we will collect all phones for the duration of the course and are not responsible for loss or damage. We will address this topic at length soon, but please be prepared to disconnect from your phone for our three months together. You will have intermittent access to internet and call centers to contact home during the program. There will be plenty of ways to stay in contact with home, and the Yak board will be our main source of communication as a group to concerned loved ones following our journeys.

Inappropriate clothing (leggings as pants, clothing that is skin tight, low-necked, more than a few inches above the knee, blazoned with inappropriate words, excessively torn, etc.) should be left at home to be enjoyed after our trip. Students with clothing deemed culturally inappropriate will be asked to change by their instructors. We hope to travel as respectfully as possible through lands that aren’t ours, and this sometimes means leaving some of our personal preferences at home.

Anything you don’t want ruined or lost.

Things you can buy in-country

Clothing (traditional, American, and souvenir), knock-off footwear, books in Spanish and English, toiletries (non-natural), notebooks and writing utensils, replacement tupperware and cutlery, souvenirs, among many other things. It’s pretty easy to cover your basics in-country. Just remember to bring your staple items and technical gear from home. Waterproof-breathables, quick dry, anti wrinkle, light-weight gear is not readily available in- country.

Feminine hygiene products (pads/applicator-less tampons) are available in-country so there is no need to bring a 3-month supply.

Thanks for reading all the way through!

And.. after telling you about so many things to buy, we’ll offer a word of caution:  when you can, pack light! Remember, in three months you will be carrying everything (or most of the things) you pack many, many times from the bus to the taxi, from the taxi to the hostel, up the hostel stairs in La Paz at 12,000 ft. in altitude, and back down again the next day (for example). Don’t skimp on important stuff, but just make sure it all fits in your backpack and day pack.

If any of you have further suggestions from your own travels or questions, please post your own Yak!

Hasta pronto!

Ana, Doug and Zack